Switzerland’s grand progress in the WC 2018 qualifiers was marred by a 0-2 defeat to Portugal in their last outing of the Group B cluster. This punctuated an unblemished run of 9 wins that fetched them equal points as toppers Portugal on the Group B table, but had to settle for the 2nd place by virtue of a poorer goal difference.
Haris Seferovic was the top goal-getter for the Swiss, accounting for 4 goals of the total of 23 his side scored. Seferovic will be looked on by coach Vladimir Petkovic to add to the score-sheet when Switzerland face Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast for the 1st leg of a crucial WC 2018 qualifying play-off. The Swiss were undoubtedly among the best sides to feature in the qualifiers. With players like the rock-solid Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner at the back and Granit Xhaka, Xerdan Shaqiri, Admir Mehmedi and Seferovic upfront and all capable of scoring goals, it would be surprising not to see Switzerland on the road to Russia next year.
By contrast their November 9 rivals’ record in the qualifiers so far has been unimpressive. Despite a 2nd spot in the Group C cluster that earned them a place in the play-offs, Northern Ireland succumbed to as many as 3 defeats and a draw from their 10 outings, managing to muster 19 points, quite some distance from toppers Germany with 30.
The Irish were short on goals, too, getting just 17 from their 10 games. But this has not fazed manager Michael O’Neill who remains upbeat about his team’s prospects. The return of striker Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), who was kept away for most of NI’s qualifying campaign by a calf injury has given the side’s attack a boost ahead of the critical play-off clash. The other forwards in the squad are Kyle Lafferty (Hearts), Josh Magennis (Charlton) and Conor Washington (QPR). The defense has some names like Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt (West Brom), Paddy McNair (Sunderland) and Jonny Evans (Southampton). One surprising move has been the recall of Scunthorpe defender Rory McArdle, 30, who donned national colors on 7 occasions way back in 2014.
It would call for a lot of vociferous home support and some really poor play by the Swiss, for Northern Ireland to make something out of the November 9 clash. This would be the Norn Iron’s only chance to get the better of the powerful Swiss, for a return trip to Basel on November 12 is definitely going to be unimaginably difficult for O’Neill’s boys. Despite an away match at tough Belfast, the bookmakers have given the Swiss the edge in the crucial 1st leg game.
Recommended Football Tip: Switzerland to win, Best Odds 11/8 William Hill